Code words and safe phones: anatomy of a Vatican money smuggling plot

July 1, 2013

(Stacks of Euro banknotes in a bank in Bern August 15, 2011. REUTERS/Pascal Lauener )

To most people, a book is a book. But to Monsignor Nunizio Scarano, a Vatican official arrested on charges of money smuggling, a “book” was a code word for one million euros in cash, a report by the judge on the case said.

“Encyclopaedia,” and “bookmarks” were among other code words that Scarano, who had close connections to the Vatican bank, used in phone conversations with secret service agent Giovanni Zito and broker Giovanni Carenzio, it said.

The three were arrested on Friday for allegedly attempting to smuggle 20 million euros in cash from Switzerland a year ago for Scarano’s rich shipping industry friends in their home town of Salerno in southern Italy.

The contours of the plot are detailed in a 48-page judicial document that includes transcripts or summaries of wiretaps, emails, letters and cheques passed on to investigators by police. The document, in which Judge Barbara Callari approves magistrates’ requests for the arrests, was obtained by Reuters.

“I think the more books you can bring the better it is,” Scarano tells secret agent Zito, who was to have collected the cash from Carenzio in Switzerland and whisk it past customs controls when a private plane returned to Italy.

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